Directed by Sergei Bodrov. Starring Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Kit Harington, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Djimon Hounsou, Antje Traue, Gerard Plunkett, Timothy Webber, Isabelle Landry, Thai-Hoa Le, Jason Scott Lee. Written by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight, Matt Greenberg, inspired by the book “The Spook’s Apprentice” by Joseph Delaney.
Jeff Bridges is a grizzled 1890s prospector hunting witches in a medieval fantasyland in Seventh Son, a derivative film in which the actor’s bizarre performance is the only item of interest during the proceedings. In that sense, this film is much like Bridges’ previous bomb, the much-maligned R.I.P.D., though it’s not nearly as fun.
Potential signs of trouble:
- Fans of the source material beware: rather than “based on”, the film is credited as “inspired by” the novel The Spook’s Apprentice, the first in Joseph Delaney’s series of popular young adult novels, currently at number 13.
- Production on Seventh Son began nearly three years ago; the film was originally scheduled for release in February, 2013. That was pushed back six months, then another six months, and then a full year…
- Before being dumped in January 2015. This is the third in a worrying series of witch hunting movies to hit in January over the past few years, following 2012’s Season of the Witch and 2014’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. In terms of overall quality, the end results are strikingly similar.
- The film won’t open in the US until February 2015; it will see release in most Asian and European markets before that date, in what is likely a move to recoup some of the $100 million budget before too much negative word spreads.
Bridges plays Master Gregory, a witch-hunting “spook” who tracks down his targets with rope netting, metal cages, and a Gandalf-like wizard’s staff. His performance here is indescribable: hidden beneath a monk’s hood, with a wispy white handlebar mustache and goatee, he scowls at his costars with a Lebowski-like California twang that seems to have come from another movie entirely.
In the film’s opening scene, his boozing session is interrupted by apprentice Billy, who needs his assistance in dealing with a witch who has possessed a young girl (already, shades of Season of the Witch…) Billy is played by Kit Harington, who fans may be surprised to see depart the film rather quickly; of course, he was cast here in back in 2011, before his role as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones made him a star.
The witch is Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore, reunited with Bridges after The Big Lebowski), who can, apparently, possess people like a demonic spirit, literally suck out their life energy, disappear into a cloud of smoke, and morph into a towering, flying, fire-breathing dragon. Of crouse, Gregory and Billy catch her in a net that wouldn’t hold a large tuna.
Malkin escapes (go figure) and retreats to a dilapidated mountainside castle where she gathers other witches – including sister Lizzie (Antje Traue) and characters played by Djimon Hounsou, Jason Scott Lee, and others – for… some reason. I wish I could detail the big witch plot to take over the world, but it seems to be absent here; they spend most of the film just defending themselves against the witch hunters. I guess we’re supposed to just accept them as the bad guys by default.
The titular Seventh Son, whom we meet fifteen minutes into the picture, is Tom Ward (Ben Barnes, last seen in a major release in 2010’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader). Here, he’s trained in the supernatural arts by Bridges’ character in scenes that recall another Nicholas Cage movie – 2010’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Tom is “the seventh son of a seventh son,” a designation that bestows to him some special witch-hunting capabilities. We never glimpse his six older brothers, but his mother is played by Olivia Williams, and he has a Romeo and Juliet-like subplot with Alice (Alicia Vikander), the half-witch daughter of Lizzie and a spy for Malkin.
There’s plenty of talent in front of the camera, and plenty of talent behind it, too: Seventh Son was directed by Sergei Bodrov, whose previous films Mogol and Prisoner of the Mountains were both nominated for Academy Awards, with lush cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel, who shot Drive and most of director Bryan Singer’s features.
Still, the result is an undeniable mess, with poorly-realized characters, non-existent motivation, and a thin sketch of a plot. While there are fleeting moments of interest – which include Bridges performance and some rare practical effects, used to create a silent troll-like creature who ends up being the most sympathetic character here – the end result is a dud. In IMAX 3D, it’s even worse – ‘neath the dim glasses, the film is a dark, murky, muddy mess, so fuzzy I frequently wondered if the projection was out-of-focus.